Don’t Call My Daughter a ‘Tomboy’

When I found out my oldest child was going to be a girl, I had visions of ballet class and glitter dancing in my head. I am a very “girlie” girl, and I couldn’t wait to share these things with my daughter. Honestly, you would think I would know better. My wife grew up an athlete, and to this day, when our kids see her in a skirt or dress, they cringe and ask what’s wrong with her clothes. But I was naive then. I figured I was the mom, I had control of the situation, and dang it, I wanted all-the-sparkles. Little did I know that the universe would have a big “ha-ha” waiting for me just a couple of years later.

My daughter was 2 years old the first time she refused a dress. I thought it was cute that she was asserting her independence, but it became less cute when she refused to wear literally any of the clothes in her closet as barely a preschooler, and I was sent to search for mythical little girl’s clothing that wasn’t covered in glitter, pink or purple. My carefully collected smocked dresses never saw the light of day. Tights and Mary Jane shoes were given away to friends. I joked about not having “bow trained” her well enough when she was a baby. She lived in jeans and Bermuda shorts, and favored plain T-shirts and collared polos. At the age of 4, she requested to play baseball and had a fantastic year on a co-ed baseball team with Mandarin Sports Association with a great team of little boys. All her friends at school were always boys because “the girls cry a lot” by her 5-year-old estimation. She spent last spring on a frog-catching spree after a particularly intense rainy period and caught a personal best of 40 frogs in one day on our street.

At the end of last school year, she requested to cut her hair into a layered pixie cut, and I asked her to wait until school was out. I gave her some lame reason why she should wait, but really, it was because I didn’t want the kids at school to tease her for it. She continued to ask, and finally I relented, cautioning, “If you cut your hair really short, people are going to ask if you’re a boy, probably even grown-ups. Grown-ups say rude things sometimes. Is that going to be okay, or do you want to wait?” And my 6-year-old, braver than I ever was at her age, goes, “No, it’s fine. I know I’m a girl, my hair won’t change that, but then at least I will like it myself.” It was more important that she like her own hair than anything I or anyone else had to say about it. And it is an adorable cut on her.

With all this background, it shouldn’t have been surprising that over time, adults started commenting, “That’s okay, she’s just a tomboy!” I kind of laughed about it, but also cringed inside, because it sounded like something my grandmother would say, as if they were trying to give an explanation to a question I wasn’t asking. This past summer, she met another little girl who was slightly older than her but dressed similarly, with short hair, and they got along like two peas in a pod. When we got in the car, my daughter said, “Oh! I forgot to ask her if she was a tomboy, too!” That statement stopped me in my tracks. Somehow, this outdated way to describe little girls who weren’t into pink and glitter and stereotypical girl things made its way into my 6-year-old’s vocabulary, and the way she said it made it sound like a subset of girl. As if there are typical girls, and there are tomboys. Like, you can’t be a girl who prefers baseball and lizards, you have to be a tomboy.

There are many ways to be a successful woman, and that starts with many ways to be a little girl. There are glittery ballerina little girls, and pink baseball-playing little girls, and quiet readers, and loud girls who like trucks. They are all okay just as they are. So please, don’t call my daughter a tomboy. She’s a little girl who happens to love reading, lizards, and cargo shorts. I don’t know who she will grow into eventually, but I can bet based on the confidence she has in who she is now, she won’t be JUST any one thing.

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